Reviewed: January 2009
Author: Barry Tranter
Roomy saloon, cabins and bathrooms, as well as dedicated storage space. Big comfy navigation station, large galley and dining area. A full-depth lazarette for sails or whatever you like. Good sailing performance and good ventilation.
Back in 2003, the management of the French boat building company Jeanneau took a deep breath and plunged into unknown waters. Long-time company policy had been to steer a conservative design and styling course while their fellow europeans hurtled forward into the avant-garde.
But Jeanneau took the plunge and were duly rewarded; the first of the ‘teardrop’ deck saloon yachts, the 54 DS (Deck Saloon), was such a success it took even Jeanneau by surprise.
Then the company was concerned that the sleek styling of the 54 DS would not translate to smaller hulls, but they needn’t have worried—the DS series now includes a 39-footer which looks pretty good. Here, we take a look at the latest teardrop to reach Australia, the 50 DS.
The DS series are cruising boats; there is no suggestion that this is a cruiser/racer, or one of those pretend cruisers whose live-aboard credentials are limited to a five-day trip during the school holidays, at which point the kids have driven you mad and there’s nowhere to put the rubbish. The 50 Ds was designed to carry people real distances in real comfort.
Designers must heave a sigh of relief when receiving a brief for a 15m boat since they don’t have to stay awake all night worrying about how to fit everything in, at 50ft, you can have it all: roomy saloon, cabins and bathrooms, as well as dedicated storage space. Aboard a cruising yacht, storage space is the greatest luxury of all.
Jeanneau has given this boat a layout of rare flexibility. The classic layout, as shown, features the master cabin forward and two guest cabins aft. The bow cabin has an ensuite bathroom (surely the term ‘head’, derived from the warships of Nelson’s day, is no longer appropriate) and the boat’s bathroom is alongside the companionway.
This layout can be reversed with the master cabin aft and two cabins forward. But Jeanneau has arranged a cunning dividing wall between these two cabins (whether forward or aft) which can be removed to make a vast single. On the boat we tested this could not be demonstrated as the owner had hosen to have it ’glassed in place.
The galley is big, as are the dining and navigation areas. Notable features include: a multi-panel, fold-out shower screen which fastens against the wall when not needed— finish your shower, fold it away, dry off; a fridge with a top-opening lid that opens to deep baskets, as well as a front-opening door; a bin, alongside the sink, to put dirty dishes in, or clean ones drying—set sail knowing the dirty breakfast dishes are secure; storage bins under the saloon floor; a gas stove, compliant with Australian regulations—not all imported gas appliances are, apparently; and a big, comfortable navigation area.
This boat had a raymarine option, allowing you to project the plotter on the TV screen. You can also reverse it and watch a movie—or the rugby test—on the plotter in the cockpit.
As with many deck saloon boats, the saloon floor is raised amidships, so there is a step to negotiate when stepping down into the galley. The step riser has a red light to remind you there’s a step at night. The handholds are great in the saloon, mounted low so kids can reach them.
The cockpit is a gem. There are two helm positions and a big, big table, which has a moulded base with teak top, large drop leaves and great grab rails. The table has plenty of bottle and glass stowage, and a big bin in the centre.
The cockpit has the world’s best cushion system: backrests and bases in small pieces so they can be stowed easily.
The boat we trialled had a dodger and a bimini, the latter with clear panels so you can see the masthead and the mainsail leech. Before we sailed we unzipped a panel that connects the two; you can sail with it in place. you can also have clears that will enclose the cockpit.
The life raft fits beneath a teak grating in a locker between the helm positions. There’s a huge garage behind the transom; the generator lives beneath the garage floor. There’s also a locker each side, aft. The tender’s outboard goes in the portside locker.
Down in the bow is the best thing, however. The greatest luxury of all: a full-depth lazarette for sails or whatever you want. A full-height ladder provides access.
I never tire of watching a modern yacht get underway. Ron Jacobs—of Performance Boating Sales—motors the Jeanneau out, switches on the autopilot, then hoists the mainsail from its boom bag using the powered winch on the port side on the coachroof. He then unrolls the headsail and sheets on. Back to the cockpit, switch off the yanmar, sail. How long does it all take ? Two minutes ?
For cruising, a short mast is a good idea—the shorter the mast, the more secure. so to get enough sail area, the headsail must be long on the foot with a lot of overlap (the distance it extends aft of the mast when sheeted on).
Big headsails mean a lot of winching. This boat has the optional Harken electric winches. ron approves. “people like the sailing performance of the big headsails,” he reasons, “so why spoil a $550,000 boat for the sake of a few thousand dollars extra ?” actually, it is quite a few thousand dollars extra, but it should be regarded as essential by a prospective buyer.
We have a wind of 12-15 knots, rare in a Sydney winter; usually there’s flat calm or a hulking 25 knots out of the west, though who can predict these days? The Jeanneau reaches along happily at 8.6 knots, a speed it also does under motor. standard engine is a 75hp yanmar, but on this boat the owner had chosen the optional 110hp. Performance Boating has replaced the standard fixed-blade prop with a folding three-blader.
I bring her hard on the wind and she thunders along. I have no trouble keeping her straight in the gusts, and she doesn’t put her gunwale under when hard pressed. Can’t fault her behaviour. I trim the headsail by pressing a button.
The helm position seats are curved for support when heeled, and so is the deck beneath the helmsman’s feet. Those mighty sheet winches are immediately ahead of the steering positions, so the skipper can reach around the wheel and perform sheeting duties, another reason for having powered winches.
“So many of our owners go long-distance sailing,” says Ron Jacobs, “but they also like taking their mates for a fun day out. Entertainment is big.”
Which is why designers these days have to produce boats with split personalities. The Jeanneau 50 DS has the ingredients for successful cruising but the cockpit, which should be a good place in a seaway, also has the infrastructure for a good day of social sailing.
You would be happy on a long cruise. There is good performance, good ventilation, a comfortable and seaworthy interior. And room for all the stuff people insist on taking with them when pretending they are getting away from it all.
Length overall: 15.07m
Length waterline: 13.12m
Power: Yanmar 75hp (std), this boat optional 110hp
Base price: On application
Price as tested: With upgraded engine, cockpit awnings, powered winches, electronics (inc. autopilot)